Narada case: Arrested Trinamool leaders to stay in jail; Governor raps Mamata government over protests in front of Raj Bhavan

The four leaders were arrested on Monday morning from their residences in the city in connection with the Narada sting case that is being investigated by the CBI on an order by the high court.
TMC supporters stage a protest over the arrest of party leaders in connection with the Narada scam case, at Raj Bhawan in Kolkata. (Photo | ANI)
TMC supporters stage a protest over the arrest of party leaders in connection with the Narada scam case, at Raj Bhawan in Kolkata. (Photo | ANI)

KOLKATA: The Calcutta High Court adjourned till Thursday the hearing in the Narada sting tape case, in which two West Bengal ministers, an MLA and a former mayor of Kolkata were arrested by the CBI.

In view of the adjournment on Wednesday, ministers Subrata Mukherjee and Firhad Hakim, Trinamool Congress MLA Madan Mitra and former city mayor Sovan Chatterjee will continue to remain in judicial custody.

The petition of the CBI seeking transfer of trial in the case and the recalling application filed by the four leaders on the high court's stay order on the bail granted by a CBI court on Monday will be further heard by the division bench comprising acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal and Justice Arijit Banerjee on Thursday.

The high court on Monday night stayed the lower court's decision to grant bail to the four leaders, arrested and charge-sheeted by the CBI in the Narada sting case.

The division bench had said that it deemed it appropriate to stay the special court's order and direct that the "accused person shall be treated to be in judicial custody till further orders".

The four leaders were arrested on Monday morning from their residences in the city in connection with the Narada sting case that is being investigated by the CBI on an order by the high court.

The CBI prayed before the high court that it transfers all proceedings in the Narada sting tape case to itself.

It also prayed that the division bench declares that the proceedings before the special CBI court post production of the arrested accused virtually on May 17 are a nullity in the eyes of law and to conduct the proceedings afresh.

The CBI further prayed that pending the final hearing and disposal of its petition before it, the high court direct continuance of its order staying the bail granted to the accused by the lower court.

Seeking transfer of the case from the special court, the CBI claimed that all the four persons arrested are very influential persons and it apprehends that they will influence and threaten the witnesses and the system.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the CBI, submitted during the hearing through the virtual mode that the incidents following the arrests were unprecedented.

"Their influence could be ascertained by the conduct of the Honble Chief Minister, Honble Law Minister, other Hon'ble Ministers and other eminent elected representatives, and the conduct of the mob at CBI Office and court premises on 17.05.2021," the CBI said in its petition.

It claimed that while the matter was being heard by the special CBI court, the CBI office was held under gherao by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, MPs Kalyan Banerjee and Santanu Sen, and TMC MLA Humayun Kabir, while an unruly crowd indulged in stone pelting at the CBI office premises.

The CBI said that the chief minister entered the CBI office premises at 10.50 am on Monday.

The investigating agency claimed that while entering the CBI Office, she started shouting "You also arrest me" and sat on a dharna for six hours.

It further said that state "Law Minister Malay Ghatak, MP Kalyan Banerjee and other important functionaries of the ruling party with a very large threatening mob of persons remained in the court premises till the arguments were completed."

The CBI has made the chief minister, the law minister and Kalyan Banerjee party in its petition seeking transfer of the case.

The agency claimed in its transfer petition before the high court that due to the gherao and violence resorted to by the mob, it was not possible for the CBI officers to move out of their office to enable them to physically produce the accused in the court and to produce the case diary before it as required by Constitution and the law.

It claimed that under the said circumstances, the CBI court passed the order granting bail to the four, "under the cloud of mobocracy, pressure, threat and violence and is a nullity in the eyes of law".

Appearing for the arrested leaders, senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi claimed that there were democratic protests and that these did not affect the process of law and hearing before the special CBI court.

He submitted that the chief minister and other ministers did not in any way instigate the protesters and had instead urged them to maintain peace.

Singhvi further submitted that there is no relation between the protests and the special CBI court's order granting bail.

He questioned why were the two ministers - Mukherjee and Hakim, and the other two former ministers - Mitra and Chatterjee, arrested even though they cooperated with the investigation all along.

It was further stated that there was no reason for their being in custody since a charge sheet against them was submitted by the investigating agency before the CBI court on Monday.

Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar had on May 7 sanctioned the prosecution of Hakim, Mukherjee, Mitra and Chatterjee on a request by the CBI on the ground that all of them were holding positions of ministers in the state at the time of the alleged commission of the crime.

The Narada sting tapes, which were made public before the 2016 assembly elections in West Bengal, were claimed to have been shot in 2014, wherein people resembling TMC ministers, MPs and MLAs were allegedly seen receiving money from representatives of a fictitious company in lieu of promised favours.

The sting was conducted by Mathew Samuel of Narada News portal.

The Calcutta High Court had ordered a CBI probe into the Narada sting operation in March 2017.

The CBI had registered cases against 12 TMC leaders, many of whom are now in the BJP, and an IPS officer.

Meanwhile, Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar on Wednesday took "serious note" of the demonstrations in front of the Raj Bhavan on consecutive days, despite prohibitory orders in force in the area, and sought a report from the city police.

The governor took to Twitter and shared video clips of both the events tagging the official handle of Kolkata Police, and asked them to send comprehensive reports regarding the incidents and the actions taken by 5 pm on Wednesday.

The governor's ire followed the agitation near the four gates of Raj Bhavan by Trinamool Congress activists on Monday after the CBI arrested three heavyweight TMC leaders, two of them state ministers, in connection with Narada case, and a demonstration by a social organisation in which a person was seen with a posse of half a dozen sheep near the North Gate the day after.

Dhankhar, who has been flagging the "worsening law and order issue" repeatedly in recent times, accused the demonstrators of showing threatening posture amounting to utter disregard for law and accused the police of not taking note of that.

Tagging the Twitter handle of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Kolkata Police, Dhankhar tweeted on Wednesday, "State of law and order ?@MamataOfficial? even at the main entry gate of Raj Bhawan worrisome with stance police ? @KolkataPolice? leaving all to be desired.

"And all this when the area is subject to 144 CrPC prohibitory orders. Constrained to seek an update on it."

In another tweet, he shared a video of a man posing outside Raj Bhavan with a flock of sheep on Tuesday.

Dhankhar tweeted "and on this stance @KolkataPolice (laughable one) is that the man was keen to have photo with Raj Bhawan background. No action whatsoever taken."

Suman Mitra, a spokesman of the organisation which carried out this unusual protest, had said the demonstration was organised to protest "lack of concern by the governor for the people who are facing the brunt due to worsening COVID-19 situation in the state, scarcity in supply of oxygen, rise in deaths. Instead, he is only preoccupied with other issues which can be dealt with later on."

"Our protest is against the dirty politics at the time of pandemic when people of Bengal are suffering," Mitra said.

Turning to the agitation by Trinamool Congress activists before all the gates of Raj Bhavan in protest against the arrests by CBI on Monday, Dhankhar tweeted "And such threatening posture at main gate of Raj Bhawan! Police @KolkataPolice virtually takes no note of it.

"Look at the content of the threat! With no fear of law- understandably given inaction of police. Can all this @MamataOfficial be countenanced or overlooked!"

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